Wednesday started off with a trip to Liberty Island, where the boys had a chance to behold the Statue of Liberty National Monument. These young men, who put their lives and limbs on the line for their country, understand the value and know the price that is often paid for the sake of freedom. The boys commented on the similarities of two great countries that enjoy so many shared principles of freedom and democracy.
In keeping with the theme of the day’s first outing, the boys then paid a visit to the newly opened National September 11 Memorial Museum. With a very first-hand appreciation of the implications of terrorism—not just for its victims, but for those who witness it and, most specifically, for those who respond to it and prevent it—the trip awakened within the boys feelings of shared experience and a new appreciation for the realities of a post-9/11 America.
Taking a lighter turn, the boys next went to Century 21 department store, for an afternoon of shopping, compliments of the Belev Echad community.
The highlight of Belev Echad New York tour took place that evening. The gala dinner, where these brave young men were the guests of honor, was attended by over 400 people and was sold out over two weeks in advance. People came from the community and beyond to honor these boys and their service to the Holy Land.
As they were ushered into the hall, the soldiers received a resounding standing ovation from the attendants. During a night of gratitude and merriment, the boys were each awarded the Exemplary Leadership Award for bravery over the summer during Operation Protective Edge. As Sergeant Or Elron remarked on his personal experience over the summer, the loss of his eye, and his road to recovery, it became clear that each of those boys left something behind (either literally or figuratively) during their grueling weeks of grounded conflict. But, as Elron put it, the Belev Echad trip contributed immeasurably to their recovery.
The boys left the gala that night, preparing for their trip back to Israel the next morning. And we left hoping that our small contribution to their rehabilitation impresses upon them just how much their sacrifice has means to us, to the Jewish people and to all those who value freedom.